Why fat is a capitalist issue

Canny investors and entrepeneurs are oten able to turn disaster into opportunity. And that's true of the current obesity epidemic.

It may be an apocryphal story, but they're often the best ones. George Bush Jnr reportedly said that the trouble with the French was that they had no word for entrepreneur. It's increasingly obvious, however, that despite Napoleon having described us as a nation of shopkeepers, the British have adopted this French word with enthusiasm.

Every morning at Waterloo East I pass a stand selling oat and yoghurt breakfasts. I sometimes stop to buy, but I'm always impressed by the ready smiles of the sellers. Something tells me it's a business that's going to grow. A quick internet search tells me they're ex-City workers on a mission to feed hungry commuters. I've a feeling that one day they may be telling us how they made their first million. In the meantime, there's Andrew Franklin, who lost his job at Penguin and founded Profile Books. More importantly, he published Lynne Truss's punctuation blockbuster, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, which sold three million copies in hardback, was distributed in the US by Penguin and now employs the man who fired him.

Which brings me to another foreign word: is the Chinese word for disaster

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and opportunity really the same? Apparently so. Weiji means where

danger threatens, opportunity is also to be found. Franklin was a man who made disaster work for him; and so can you, if you follow our lead.

Even in the world's obesity crisis. It's clearly calamitous, and the threat to the world's health is immense; but it's also forced governments to act in the population's interests and industry to act, as it always does, in its own. So the population will, eventually, be more healthy; and a new industry will be created to make it so. And where there is change, there are profits to be had (see: Could you make fat profits from the fight against flab?). Fat is, after all, a capitalist issue.

There are times when this equation fails to add up. It's harder to see the benefit when disaster has just occurred. More difficult, for example, for those caught up in the riots in Hungary or the coup in Thailand. Harder to see opportunity in the slow train-crash which is the US housing market; with house-price inflation running at zero, house prices are set to fall next year for the first time since the Great Depression. Or where a hedge fund can lose $4bn in a week, betting on gas prices.

It's difficult to see the advantage of huge City bonuses, or bankers who sue for more when they are given a paltry £1m. Yet there is an upside: London is thriving. So much so that we are inundated with mega-rich tax exiles who want "access to the best financial markets, speed of communication, personal safety and a sophisticated infrastructure of shops, entertainment and good schooling". And suddenly things don't seem so bad, after all.

Merryn Somerset-Webb is on maternity leave